Merino 101

Merino sheep are domestic breed, characterised by very soft and high-quality wool, native to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. The Merino is one of the most historically relevant and economically influential breeds of sheep, much prized for its wool. Merinos are adaptable and excellent foragers. They must be sheared at least once a year because their wool does not stop growing.

Image credit: The Campaign for Wool

It is fine but strong

This fiber can bend more than thicker fibers so it is very soft to the touch and doesn’t make you itch; it has high elasticity, which means that garments maintain their shape.

Despite its fineness, merino wool is strong and resilient. You can bend it, stretch it, pull it in any direction, some say up to 20,000 or 30,000 times, without any damage.

Image credit: The Campaigh for Wool

It can handle moisture

Another important and unique characteristic of wool is its ability to handle moisture. It can absorb large amounts of water vapor and move it away to evaporate in the air. In fact, Merino fibre will feel dry to the touch even if it has absorbed up to 30% of its own weight in moisture. Most other fabrics will feel wet at 7% absorption.

When you wear a wool garment and you get hot, the fibre absorbs moisture vapor from the space between your body and the fabric, so you feel dry. This ability to attract moisture and then to move it to the surface to evaporate is known as “wicking”.

Wool fibre is very like our own bodies – it heats and cools naturally. Wool keeps us warm because its crimp traps pockets of air and becomes an excellent insulator. This, together with wicking, ensures that you stay warm. It is also very lightweight, considering the warmth it provides. This makes merino garments popular for skiing and other outdoor activities.

On the other hand, if you are hot, the moisture that has been absorbed into the fibre evaporates, and this creates a cooling effect on the air between your skin and the fabric, therefore it’s also a great choice for summer activities and for summer clothing such as tops, dresses and skirts.

Further benefits related to wool’s wicking ability is that it is non-static, so it does not cling to your body, drapes glamorously and does not attract dust.

It is easy to care for

Merino wool garments are anti-wrinkle because the fibre up close are like coiled springs that go back to their original shape even after being bent. This same elasticity makes woollen garments very comfortable to wear and long lasting, as they stretch with the wearer and then return to their shape rather than sagging or wrinkling. Woollen garments are not likely to smell of sweat. They are also unlikely to cause allergies. Merino wool garments require less washing than regular items of clothing- they can be refreshed by airing them.

Lanolin naturally protects sheep from the sun, and this UV protection is extended to wearers of merino wool garments.

Safe and comfortable against bare skin

In general merino wool is much finer than the wool of other sheep, and so it bends when it presses against the skin, rather than pricking like thicker fibres, so it is less likely to create an itch. Many people have thought that the itch caused by wool products is an allergic reaction, possibly to lanolin, but studies at Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that this is very rare. People find a fabric to be itchy and irritating if more than 5% of its fibres are thicker than 30 microns – and because merino wool is so fine it is unlikely to cause itch.